She was taught to read with dime novels, and according to family legend was born in a canoe between 1884 and 1888.
Her name was Christine Quitasket, or Mourning Dove, as some may have come to know her from her pen name. Her novel Cogewea, The Half Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range, was the first to be published by a Native American woman.
The book is about a mixed-blood girl caught between white ranchers and reservation Indians—“the book combines authentic Indian lore with the circumstance and dialogue of a popular romance,” says a description on Amazon.com.
“Cogewea is a young, spirited, mixed-blood woman who has returned to her brother-in-law’s ranch in Montana from the Carlisle Indian school. She soon finds herself torn between two forces: the traditionalism of her grandmother (Stemteemä) and the modern ways of Alfred Densmore, an Easterner who courts Cogewea because he believes, mistakenly, that she is wealthy,” says a story about Mourning Dove by the Center for Study of the Pacific Northwest.
According to HistoryLink.org, she told a Spokane newspaper in 1916 that she wanted to break down white stereotypes of American Indians. “It is all wrong, this saying that Indians do not feel as deeply as whites. We do feel, and by and by some of us are going to be able to make our feelings appreciated, and then will the true Indian character be revealed.”
That article advertised the release of Cogewea, but the book wouldn’t actually be published until 1927. But like her books after, it had been edited. “When Coyote Stories was published in 1933… Many of the stories as published were unrecognizable to the Colville-Okanagan elders who originally told them,” says HistoryLink.org.
Honor this groundbreaking Native American woman at the Mourning Dove Symposium and Celebration from November 7-8 at the Okanogan and Omak Long House. Register by clicking here—some events are already full. Check out the full listing of events here.